The Scandal of partiality in the Epistle of James

Part 12: Conclusion

The most striking theme in the whole letter is the denunciation of the rich and the powerful, and the corresponding concern for the poor and the oppressed. Which is evident in the vehement denunciation of social injustice, oppression and exploitation, above all in the direct attack on the rich traders and merchants (4:13-17) is integrally connected (cf. also 4:1-12), and the same point is sharply evident also in 2:6-7, even though this section is dealing mainly with the issue of favouritism within the community, and is not addressed directly to the poor. James in this section exposes ruthlessly the sources of power relationships and the causes of conflict, oppression and social unjustice. To live for personal gain and to exploit the poor and defenceless is the epitome of evil; above all it is in direct contradiction to what God requires (2:5). Yet at the same time James insists that it is not simply the direct exploitation and oppression of the poor by the rich that constitutes the problem. It is also the obsequious favouring of the rich and powerful, for the favour it is hoped they will bestow, and the contemptuous treatment of the poor, because they can offer nothing, that serves to reinforce the injustice, suffering and imbalance of power (2:1-7). James sets these issues in eschatological perspective, above all that of final judgement[1].

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The Scandal of partiality in the Epistle of James

Part 11: Mercy should have the final say

Therefore, being guilty as charged James in verse 12 calls upon his audience to be responsible and own up to their guilt as they are accountable by they have done to judgement while verse 13 speaks of mercy being rendered only unto those who renders mercy (reminiscent of the Mosaic antecedent ‘eye for an eye’ in Leviticus 24:19–21, Exodus 21:22–25, and Deuteronomy 19:21) while at the same time reminding his audience of the paradoxical statement where mercy triumphs over judgement. In a way this shows that as far as dealing with sin (partiality) is concerned justice must have the first word, however it cannot have the last as mercy is important because James in writing this epistle reproofs his audience so that they would repent and in so doing have their fellowship restored regardless of their economic standing, thus putting into effect the royal law according to the Scripture, that is to: love our neighbour as ourselves!

The Scandal of partiality in the Epistle of James

Part 10: Guilty in accordance to the law

In verses 8-11 James’ brothers, his co-servants in Christ those who belong to the twelve tribes scattered among nations (1:1), are now reminded of their identity which finds itself in their history as the people upon whom God disclosed His divine will according to the law.

Verse 8 echoes what was spoken of the Lord in Leviticus 19:18 which find its place within what scholars call as ‘the Holiness Code[1]’ of Israel. The code calls on the people of Israel to separated from the rest of the world because God has chosen them in doing so they are to demonstrate their unique relationship with God by disassociating themselves from profane worldliness and by their rituals and by obeying the commands in the Law which includes exercising equality as a demonstration of justice and righteousness with injunction to “love one’s neighbour as oneself” (Lev. 19:15). While, Jesus emphasized that the moral requirements of the law –justice, mercy and faith –were the heart of God’s will for Israel and were to be the norms governing its life as a people of God. Jesus spoke of the entire law as summarized in two commands: love of God and neighbour[2] (Mat. 22:37-39).

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The Scandal of partiality in the Epistle of James

Part 9: The implication of guilt

Notice James implicates his brothers’ of their fault by posting a rhetorical question: “has God not chosen the poor…?” This question indicates the expectation of an affirmative answer, because the church knew well that God had chosen the poor, since this concept of God’s preferential option for the poor is already deeply rooted in both Jewish and Christian thought[1].

Notice also how James clearly distinguishes the type of rich person about whom he is speaking. Instead of merely referring to him as “the rich,” he writes “a man in gold rings in fine clothing” –characteristic adornment of a wealthy person[2]. Furthermore, James emphasized that the God whom they serve as co-servants, the God who has implanted his word upon them has: “chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom,” on the other hand James also highlights that this divine option for the poor is a promise that can only be claimed by the poor who loves God –thus the poor who are part of their faith community, and it is here where the irony of the situation lies.

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The Scandal of Partiality in the Epistle of James

Part 8: Partiality in their midst

Having set the stage in his introduction, James now turns to discuss one of the major themes he has introduced, that of wealth and charity. A discussion that expands on the previous statements in 1:9-11 and 1:22-27[1]. Following James’ theme of responding to God’s implanted word in action in the previous chapter (1:22-25), the author now starts situate the behavioural patterns that ought to be manifested by his brothers and co-servants who have received the word. He does so with the emphasis of practicing equality within the church, as James clearly believes that the poor have a very important place in the church because of the levelling effect of the Christian gospel, to which he argues that true faith has no place for the social distinction of the world.[2]

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The Scandal of partiality in the Epistle of James

Part 1: Introduction

Many agree that the message of James is scandalous as it contains the famous passage that says: “man is not justified by faith alone.” In fact, a book has already been written about it –Elsa Tamez’s The Scandalous Message of James: Faith Without Works is Dead. However, I would like to point out that there is perhaps a more scandalous message contained in the Epistle of James –that is James’ disdain towards the practice of partiality in the community of faith.

The Scripture as the Word of God couched in ancient human language, in human words that persevere for Christians of all generations as a form of God’s self-revelation to his people who are fashioned in and through Jesus of Nazareth. As Christians in the twentieth century we read and study that Word of God as nourishment of our spiritual lives. But we do not study it in a vacuum. We are members of a faith-community that feeds its spiritual life, indeed on the written Word of God along with the tradition that has been born of it and that has helped fashion the understanding of that written record[1].

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